Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, still smarting over the rejection of his tobacco tax hike, has set his sights on a new target for revenues: drivers. On Monday, Rendell called for a gasoline tax hike of 3.25 cents per gallon. Currently, Pennsylvania levies a gasoline tax at a rate of 32.3 cents per gallon, the tenth highest rate in the nation and higher than either New Jersey or Delaware according to the Tax Foundation. Rendell is also calling for higher fees on various vehicle services, including a nine dollar increase in the vehicle registration fee to $45, a six dollar increase in the cost of vehicle titles to about $28, and a two dollar hike to $23 in the driver's license fee. Truckers, who now pay between $59 and $1,700 to register their vehicles, would suddenly have to fork over to the state anywhere between $73-$2,100 if the Governor has his way. Rendell claims the tax hike is necessary because the state needs to make up $472 million a year for transportation projects in the state, including bridge replacements and mass transit, that he did not get when the federal government rejected tolls along Interstate 80.
Really? I suggest that Governor Rendell go read the testimony of my friend and colleague Matthew Brouillette before the Pennsylvania State Senate on June 23, 2010. Matt, who is President of the Commonwealth Foundation, testified that, when it comes to transportation funding, Pennsylvania has a spending, not a revenue problem. He pointed out that the Pennsylvania currently ranks fourth in the nation in overall highway spending. Additionally, Matt noted that, since Rendell took office, the state has increased road funding from $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion. Since 2002, bridge repair funds increased by $700 million. What's more, Matt pointed out that the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission wrote the following in a 2006 report: "The Commission concludes that no additional funding should be provided for highways, bridges, and transit unless a series of parallel actions are taken to reform funding structure and a number of transportation business practices."
Now, as a Pennsylvania native, I understand the frustration residents feel with regard to the state's roads. I also know the importance of good roads to the economy, as Pennsylvania's roads serve as the vital link between the Northeast and the rest of the country for agricultural and manufactured goods. However, simply raising taxes on drivers and increasing fees on truckers to throw more money at the transportation problem is not a viable solution. Instead, as Matt suggested in his testimony, there are a number of reforms Pennsylvania should do to repair the aging infrastructure, including repealing prevailing wage laws on road projects, reforming mass transit, and leasing the Turnpike. Let's hope that if lawmakers do return to Harrisburg in a special session to address transportation issues as Rendell wants, the first thing they do is reject the governor's proposed gasoline tax hike.